Juliet England: Deaf people can take part in political campaigns too

Posted on February 1, 2017

In the end, it was a friend who decided it.

‘Are you sure?’ she emailed. ‘I mean, I was in town the other day and spoke to people from the In campaign. They were really switched on, seriously well informed. They really knew what they were talking about.’ (Sub-text: And you don’t. You won’t be able to hear. Don’t do it.)

In fairness, the friend was probably just looking out for me, worried how I would cope on the doorstep or in a busy town centre. Anyway, the best way to get me to do something is to tell me I shouldn’t.

And so I presented myself outside Marks & Spencer in Broad Street, ready to get stuck into my first ever bit of political campaigning.

I helped out over numerous lunchtimes and evenings, thrusting leaflets into the hands of passers-by, in Broad Street and outside the train station.

Most people, of course, didn’t want a leaflet or to talk. They avoided eye contact, scurrying past, raising a half-hearted hand or mumbling ‘no thanks’. Sometimes, words were lost, carried away on the breeze.

Sometimes I could hear enough to hear them say ‘I’m out,’ and so I just bid them good day.

Some did want to stop. Admittedly occasionally I just smiled and nodded, pretending to hear. Contrary to what my friend may have thought, there were few questions I couldn’t answer or hear at all, but these could be passed on.

One evening close to polling day, I was introduced to Mark, a veteran of many a campaign trail, whose camouflage jacket bore plentiful badges, and who introduced himself with the chilling words, ‘I like a bit of mischief.’

It turns out that the owner of the pub chain Wetherspoon’s is an ardent Leaver. Now we are to get our own back with what will be first piece of proper political activism. He has some beer mats saying ‘Cheers!’ in all the languages of the EU and advocating ‘Have a drink with our European friends.’ We are to barge into a Wetherspoon’s and place these subversive, inflammatory items on tables. I haven’t felt this thrilled at being so naughty since I was seven, though it was hard to catch the whispered instructions at the debrief outside the pub.

Inside, the dark pub, we separated to go round the tables. A few drinkers looked up in vague bemusement. My heart threatened to jump out of my rib cage.

Then it all went wrong.

‘You put those out in here,’ said a woman behind the bar, and we left, with me mumbling something very British about being terribly sorry.

There was a festive atmosphere outside the station just before polls closed, as we caught that evening’s commuters in one final push. It seemed everyone was wearing a ‘Stronger In’ sticker – the Big Issue vendor had his jauntily in his hat. It was a sea of support for Remain.

And so it came to pass. As dawn broke, it was all over. Farage on the breakfast news, gurning in smug victory with his rubbery face, saying even the weather had improved. Even that seemed like a taunt, though the sunshine didn’t last. By 8am, I was watching the subtitles telling me Cameron had resigned, Sam Cameron standing tearily behind him.

It was the strangest of strange days, everything changed for ever, while daily life continued utterly the same.

Seven months on, I can honestly say having a hearing loss was no bar to my admittedly small efforts for Stronger In. And, these days, so much can be done online – I have written to my MP, signed various petitions and agreed to draft a press release for my local pro-EU campaign. You can learn a lot from reading the news, and convulse with hysterics at the Trump inauguration’s coverage, complete the wrongly loaded (in mischief?) subtitles from a soap opera.

I plan to go to events, including a drinks meeting for the local campaign and maybe a talk by A C Grayling. I doubt I’ll hear every word, but no matter. It’s having my voice heard that matters.

Juliet England does freelance social media and PR work for cseeker.

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